APA members must change their counseling
APA members must change their counselingIsrael news photo: (illustrative)

An international Jewish nonprofit organization has come out swinging against an edict by the American Psychological Association which warned its membership not to counsel homosexuals toward trying to "go straight."

The American Psychological Association (APA) adopted the ban last week against counseling homosexual clients toward changing their sexual orientation. The edict contradicts work byr American psychologists at faith-based organizations, where referrals to organizations such as JONAH -- Jews Offering New Alternatives to Homosexuality --  are commonly offered.

JONAH is a nonprofit international organization dedicated to educating the worldwide Jewish community about the social, cultural and emotional factors that lead to same-sex attractions. It is one of a number of faith-based organizations that have been created over the past 20 years to help homosexuals who are unhappy with their circumstances. Homosexual relations are forbidden by Biblical law and are opposed by the three monotheistic faiths, Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

The 150,000-member Washington-based APA, the largest association of psychologists worldwide, adopted the resolution last week, stating that mental health professionals should avoid telling clients that they can change their sexual orientation through therapy or other treatments.

Arthur Goldberg, director of JONAH, said the secular bias in the report against religious values that led to the resolution was obvious. "The report suggests that psychologists may counsel those with religious belief systems that object to homosexuality to explore alternative life paths that address the reality of their sexual orientation; in order words, suggest an alternative religion or lifestyle that affirms their gayness.

"They do concede, however, that if the client still believes that affirming his same-sex attraction is sinful or destructive of his faith, psychologists may then help him construct an identity that rejects the power of those attractions; however, this course of action is only appropriate, according to the APA, after the counselor provides a blatant misrepresentation: that no evidence exists showing that therapy can change sexual orientations."

"The psychologists are also advised to promote the happiness allegedly attainable from identifying as a gay or lesbian," Goldberg says, noting that such a claim is misleading.

The APA's "Resolution on Appropriate Affirmative Responses to Sexual Orientation Distress and Change Efforts" advises that parents, guardians, young people and their families avoid treatments that portray homosexuality as a mental illness or developmental disorder. Instead, they are urged to seek psychotherapy, social support and educational services "that provide accurate information on sexual orientation and sexuality, increase family and school support and reduce rejection of sexual minority youth."

The adoption of the resolution followed a report issued by a committee of six psychologists that examined a number of research studies, including some on the efficacy of "reparative therapy," or sexual orientation change efforts (SOCE), which it claimed was not proven to be effective.

Goldberg called the report an "unbalanced, scientifically flawed document" and noted that it was prepared by six "gay-identified therapists, all appointed as members of the six-member 'Task Force on Appropriate Therapeutic Responses to Sexual Orientation' and approved by the [APA]." He and co-director Elaine Silodor Berk charged that there "was never any pretense of balance as to the make-up of the committee's membership," adding that the APA caucus that appointed the committee "consistently rejected for committee membership any number of qualified therapists either with neutral views or actual practitioners of therapies designed to assist sexual reorientation change."

According to Judith M. Glassgold, Psy.D., chair of the task force that presented the report, the conclusions reached by the committee were due to "the research methods [that were] inadequate to determine the effectiveness of these interventions."

However, Goldberg said that the committee ignored a landmark review by the National Association for the Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH) of more than 600 sudies on the subject. NARTH provided a comprehensive review of the peer-reviewed literature that examined the ability of individuals to change who had unwanted same-sex attraction, Goldberg said, but this was ignored by the APA committee.

An American immigrant psychotherapist based in Israel who requested anonymity termed the decision "irresponsible." She added that it made "no sense to make such a sweeping decision by basing it on what the task force itself insisted was unreliable research."

Although some studies suggested that some individuals learned how to ignore or not act on their homosexual attractions, the task force claimed the research was invalid because the studies "did not indicate for whom this was possible, how long it lasted, or its long-term mental health effects."

The task force also noted that some clients seeking to change their sexual orientation may be in distress due to a conflict between that orientation and their religious beliefs. In such cases, the APA voted to recommend that mental health care providers help the client "explore possible life paths that address the reality of their sexual orientation..."

The APA further urged psychologists to "be completely honest about the likelihood of sexual orientation change, and that they help clients explore their assumptions and goals with respect to both religion and sexuality."

One of the services offered by JONAH is a project called the Jonah Institute for Gender Affirmation, which provides "research and clinical strategies for growth out of homosexuality." JONAH also offers professional psychological and spiritual counseling for those struggling with same-sex attraction and their families, according to its website.